Results tagged ‘ Roberto Hernandez ’

Fans appreciate rookie’s big night

Before Friday night’s game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not care to make a commitment beyond this game as to how often Zoilo Almonte would play. The rookie outfielder was making his first major-league start is as far as Girardi would go. The skipper did point out, however, that sometimes a player does so well he keeps himself in the lineup.

That could be the case with Almonte. Who knows? He won over the Yankee Stadium crowd in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory over loss to the Blue Jays; that’s for sure. When is the last time you saw a rookie urged out of the dugout for a curtain call?

That is what happened with Almonte in the sixth inning after he crushed a 0-1 fastball from Tampa Bay righthander Roberto Hernandez into the Yankees bullpen for his first big-league home run. It was the fourth straight hit for Almonte, who got his first major-league knock as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning Thursday night and had singles his first two times up Friday night. Since 1916, the only other Yankees player to get at least three hits and a home run in a single game within his first three major league games was Oscar Azocar Sept. 18, 1990 against the Royals in his second career game.

“You don’t expect a kid to get three hits in his first game,” Girardi said. “That can give a kid a lot of confidence.”

“I felt a little nervous,” Almonte said through translator Kenny Leandry. “I always thought this day would come, God willing, and when that day would come, I would be grateful.”

Asked if this was the best day of his life, Almonte said, “Today and when my son was born.”

The crowd also liked the throw he made from left field in the fourth inning that discouraged Luke Scott from attempting to score from third base after the Rays had loaded the bases with one out that helped David Phelps work out of the jam.

“That was an important inning,” Girardi said. “When they didn’t score after loading the bases; that turned the whole game around.”

Perhaps during a week at the Stadium in which the Dodgers showed off Yasiel Puig and the Rays displayed Wil Myers, Yankees fans wanted to get excited about an up-and-coming young player in pinstripes. Almonte, who turned 24 earlier this month, is a switch hitter from the Dominican Republic who has been on the Yankees’ radar for some time. Girardi felt the youngster pressed a bit in spring training but rebounded with strong numbers at Triple A Scranton (.297, six homers, 36 RBI).

Someone in the crowd even chanted “MVP” when Almonte came to bat in the eighth inning. He struck out. Hey, noboby’s perfect.

Mo gets to 1,000

A Yankee Stadium crowd of 43,201 on a sun-splashed afternoon not only got to see the Yankees win a game against the Blue Jays but also to watch Mariano Rivera step into another level of baseball history. In what was not a save situation but an opportunity to get in some work for the first time in a week, Rivera made the 1,000th appearance of his major-league career and pitched a shutout ninth inning.

Rivera became the 15th pitcher to reach four figures in games – all are pitchers, primarily relievers – but the first to do so with just one team, an extraordinary accomplishment in the free agency era of player movement. His reaction to the milestone was similar to so many of his other reactions – tinged with humility.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I mean, when I first started, something like this never crossed my mind. I was just happy to be in the big leagues. This is special, especially to do it with one team, the Yankees, and be able to play with so many great players. They showed a lot of faith in me in the early days. I thank God for his help and the support of my wife and family.”

Mo was quick to point out that he lost the first game he ever pitched for the Yankees, a start May 23 at Anaheim when he gave up five runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of a 10-0 loss. He also mentioned that he blew two saves in his first week as the team’s closer in 1997, the year after he had been an outstanding setup reliever for John Wetteland, whose pursuit of free agency opened the door for Rivera to begin a run as the greatest closer in baseball.

The Yankees’ catcher in those years was Joe Girardi, now the manager who brought Rivera into Wednesday’s game.

“I reflect on when I first came here in 1996 and caught him in spring training.” Girardi said. “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’ His stuff was excellent. He threw 97 [mph] and put the ball where he wanted it. He elevated. I was a National Leaguer. I had never heard of him, but I knew this kid was something special. Even before he became the closer, he was special. In those days, if you didn’t get to us by the sixth inning, the game was over.”

Rivera entered games in the seventh inning in 1996. A year later, he took over the ninth and has made that inning his ever since, to the point that when he does blow a save as he did last week at Baltimore it is headline news. Closing relievers are like housekeepers; nobody notices your work unless you don’t do it.

“I was surprised,” Rivera said about being named the Yankees’ closer in ’97. “We had just won the World Series. It was a lot of responsibility, but I took it as a challenge. You have to be proud of what you do.”

Of the other 14 1,000-game pitchers, four have connections with the Yankees, including the all-time leader, Jesse Orosco, who appeared in 1,252 games over four decades and 24 seasons. His best seasons were with the Mets in the 1980s, and Orosco was reunited with former manager Joe Torre with the Yankees in 2003, the lefthander’s final season in the majors.

Second to Orosco on the list is another lefthander, Mike Stanton, with 1,178 games. Stanton was an integral part of the Yanks’ bullpen from 1997 through 2002 and a portion of the 2005 season. Lee Smith, who held the saves record before Trevor Hoffman broke it, is tied with Jose Mesa for 10th place on the list with 1,022 games, eight of which were with the Yankees at the tail end of the 1993 season.

The most prominent former Yankees reliever on the list is Goose Gossage, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008. Goose was the Yankees’ closer from 1978 through ’83 and came back to pitch for them briefly (11 games) in 1989. He ranks 14th with 1,002 games.

What those who pitched for the Yankees save Rivera have in common with nearly everyone else on the list is that they wore quite a few different uniforms. Orosco and Gossage pitched for nine teams apiece, Stanton and Smith eight each.

The least traveled 1,000-game pitchers prior to Rivera were John Franco, Kent Tekulve and Hoffman, each of whom who played for only three teams. Franco is third on the list with 1,119 games, Tekulve eighth with 1,050 and Hoffman ninth with 1,035.

The other pitchers to appear in more than 1,000 games with the number of their teams in parentheses were fourth-place Dennis Eckersley (5) with 1,071 games; fifth-place Hoyt Wilhelm (9) with 1,090; sixth-place Dan Plesac (6) with 1,064; seventh-place Mike Timlin (6) with 1,058; 10th-place Mesa (8) with 1,022, tied with Smith; 12th-place Roberto Hernandez (10) with 1,010 and 13th-place Mike Jackson (9) with 1,005.

Eckersley, Wilhelm and Gossage are the only Hall of Famers on the 1,000-game list. Wilhelm was elected in 1985 and Eckersley in 2004. Hoffman retired this year and won’t be eligible for the ballot until 2016. Rivera, of course, is still active – very much so.

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